How About Four Wheeled Diversity?

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The Celebration  of Diversity is a non-stop party, except when it comes to cars – which wax homogenous with each passing year. Bars of soap with different grilles, in different sizes and colors but as uniformly the same as the cheering masses at a Nuremburg partei rally.

This extends even to what’s under the hood.

It’s is a function of the regulatory template imposed by Washington, which designs cars nowadays. Not officially, but might as well be. For instance:

There is a reason every new car has a rear end that looks like the mighty cheeks of a Budweiser Clydesdale  . . . or a person of Wal Mart.

It is so because of the unanticipated side-effect of the original round of federal fuel efficiency (CAFE) mandates, which incited the entirely artificial SUV boom back in the late ’80s and early ‘90s. Which developed in response to the forced-by-fatwa downsizing of cars. Most people did not – and still do not – like small, under-engined cars; so they bought big SUVs instead, which were still very much like the big American cars of the ’70s and earlier, just higher-riding and with four-wheel-drive. They had V8s, lots of room and you felt secure inside of one.

There weren’t many – at this time, they were still “niche” or specialty vehicles that were sold in relatively small numbers – but they were available, because they were (at the time) subject to  a less-strict government fuel economy fatwa and so the automakers were able to build them in quantity.

Their popularity surged; soon every major car company was making them.

But these big SUVs were a big problem for small cars.

Their bumpers were mounted much higher than the small car’s – and of course, the big SUV was bigger (and heavier). When a big, heavy SUV rear-ended a small car, the SUV’s bumper rode over the car’s bumper and accordionized the car – an effect enhanced by the greater weight of the SUV.

Solution? Build cars with fat asses that jutted high up in the air.

Well, that was government’s solution. The better solution – rescinding the fuel economy fatwas (why is the gas mileage of our cars any of the government’s business?) so that car designers could design cars that looked good, which people wanted and which were safe (because now you could see behind you without needing a back-up camera) was never even considered.

Instead, we get Clydesdale-assed cars. And homogeneity.

Pop the hood for more of the same. You may have noticed. The small, heavily turbocharged four cylinder engine is becoming the universal engine. Mercedes-Benz, BMW, VW, Hyundai, General Motors. Different brands – and badges – but have many of their models have 2.0 liter turbocharged fours as their powerplants.

They are not exactly identical engines, as far as their internals. But they are very similar, including – obviously – their displacement.

This is not coincidental.

More fatwas.

Less range-of-action. More of the same-same results.

In Europe – and the car business is an international business – there are taxes on engines over a certain size. The various Dear Leaders and technocratic elite are not impaired by these fatwas – and continue to drive (or be driven) around in their large, powerful – and often, armored – conveyances. Which are still available, just very expensive now and so very exclusive.

Anyhow, the taxes impose a de facto limit on engine sizes everywhere – and across brands and models. Because it’s not economical to make different engines for different markets and regulatory regimes. So the European fatwas contribute to homogeneity here, as U.S. fatwas do the same over there.

The turbo, meanwhile, is a way to get around the fuel economy fatwas. To make a small engine – especially in a car or SUV otherwise way too big for it – acceptable to buyers while also being acceptable to the government. Several large sedans – for example, the current BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E Class – come standard with these puny (for the car) but heavily breathed on (via the turbo) engines – in both cases, 2.0 liter turbo four cylinder engines.

These 2.0 turbo engines are everywhere.

Last week, I test drove the 2018 VW Tiguan (reviewed here) which is a close to 4,000 lb. SUV with a very small 2.0 liter four under its hood. It’s a very complicated, expensive and probably not long-lived answer to a question no one asked. A six cylinder engine with no turbo would be much better suited to a vehicle like the Tiggy.

Also the BMW 5 and Benz E.

And unlike past turbo’d engines – which had personality – every effort is made to dial out any hint that these engines are breathed on. No turbo whistle, no wastegate pop – no sudden climax of horsepower as the boost comes on.  

Instead, an anodyne appliance. As competent as a microwave oven and with as much individuality. All the variety of Breyer’s vanilla vs. Edy’s.

No more rocky road for you.

Within living memory there were fins and scoops and heterogenous looks. One could tell a Chevy from a Ford 100 yards away and without reference to a badge on the trunk. Some cars were strippers – not the pole dancing kind. They had little in the way of gadgets and amenities, but they were a cheap way to get around. Others were loaded and luxurious.

Different engines defined the car – and the brand.

Some of this still exists – but it is in mortal danger of extinction. I wrote recently (here) about Porsche’s performance of the Three Reverences (think John Adams before King George) before the new king of everything – the electric car. Nothing could be more homogenous than an electric motor and its adoption by Porsche is the automotive equivalent of what the Chichxulub meteor did to the dinos some 66 million years ago.

And it’s not just Porsche and it’s not just under the hood.

Once upon a time . . .

The sameness is spreading – and it is achieving what may have been the intended effect, which isn’t “safety” or fuel efficiency but to make cars into appliances rather than things of passion – which is an effective way of stilling the passion to drive, to be on the open road, free, no particular place to go but enjoying the hell out of the ride.

No one enjoys riding the bus. You think about other things, about getting there – and what you’ll do once you are there. Busses are all the same.

And so, increasingly, are cars.

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  1. I just bought a 2016 Mustang and I specifically chose this gently used car (instead of a new Mustang) because it has a 6-cyl. engine. I am told this is the last year I can have this. My husband made a valiant effort to get me in the 4-cyl. ecoboost turbo something or other and I resisted. This is what is in his company-supplied work truck … a TRUCK, for God’s sake! … and he says it’s awesome. I said no thanks. Although I really want a V-8 stang, I like the V-6 as a good compromise. A little cheaper to purchase, drive and insure but still has some power and a bit of a rumble under the hood … a baby monster, perhaps and it feels heavy and safe and solid and grounded and good quality. As a girl, I probably should not say this, but I can’t abide by these cheap pussy-mobiles. I flew to Tampa and rented something at the airport – not sure what it was, some Chevy econobox – headed toward 275 and realized my mistake. The poor little thing putter-puttered up the onramp, 0-60 in 30 seconds, and I was nearly creamed by a semi. It didn’t crush me but I felt like it nearly blew me off the highway. I guess I should have rented something more substantial. Sorry to say, I fear I will have no choice one day. We’ll all be shoved into little ugly, collapsible shoe boxes with rubberband motors.

      • Baby, there’s no one like me!
        LOL. No, sorry no sisters. It’s hard to find libertarian-ish women. I work in journalism, so the majority of my female acquaintances are liberal, so in the interest of career advancement, I keep my mouth shut. There is a facebook site for libertarian women that explored why there are so few of us. I couldn’t stay with it though. The administrator really seemed to have a chip on her shoulder and the site seemed to mostly be kvetching about how much men suck, which is not supposed to be the point of our particular ism.

    • Correction: 2016 was the last year you could get the V6 with the premium package: leather seats, better stereo, assorted other pretties. You can get one in 2017, I guess, but it’s not as nice. Funny, I ended up getting one with the cloth seats anyway because I fell in love with the car and there are advantages to the cloth. I guess the point is that I want what I want, not what’s pushed onto me. Due to fuel requirements, I heard Ford is phasing out the V6 and pushing buyers who don’t want the GT to the 4-cyl. I actually went to a dealership and the salesman tried to steer me to the Focus. I said, “Dude, are ya daft? I drive a MUSTANG! I’d rather keep my old broken down Mustang than buy that crappy abomination. It actually hurts my eyes.”

      • Hi Amy,

        Yup – the V6 is gone. It’s either the turbo four (now with a ten speed transmission) or the GT and the V8.

        Of course, the GT is effectively unaffordable for most of the people who are its natural target (people 35 and under) so it’s become kind of like a 911 Porsche used to be: a mid-life crisis car.

    • The F150 eco-boost is a V6. The Mustang’s is a turbo 2.3L 4cyl.

      If I had the time I would like to get a ’79 Mustang, the lightest of the fox bodies and put the current 2.3L ecoboost in it. I just think that engine would great in some of the very light cars that were made from ’78 to about ’85.

  2. I have been waiting for this article for some time. While the government promotes diversity among peoples as our nation’s greatest strength, it refuses to honor the concept insofar as automotive design is concerned.

    So, a Ford looks like a Buick, which looks like a Toyota that looks like a Hyundai imitating a Jaguar, that aspires to be an Infiniti instead, unless what you are really viewing happens to be a Chevrolet. In which case for whatever vehicle you want, for seventy-two or eighty-four months at zero percent (for qualified buyers only) the dealer will pay your tag and taxes if you shoot the basketball in the hoop. Sigh.

  3. According to the census and the Diversity Clause in the constitution, 16% of cars should be black cars with spinning rims and gold grills and such. 20% of the cars should be guacamole green, bright pink, and taco yellow. It’s a great burden driving these white male patriarchal for otherkins of color I’m sure.

    Also all road signs should be translated to Bix Nood and Spanglish for our fellow drivers of colored languages.

    …proposed edits… (CAPS ARE CORRECTED MALSPEAK)

    The Celebration of Diversity is a non-stop party, except when it comes to cars – which wax MORE HOMOGENEOUS with each passing year. Bars of soap with different grilles, in different sizes and colors but as uniformly the same as the cheering masses at a NUREMBERG partei rally.

    IT’S a function of the regulatory template imposed by Washington, which designs cars nowadays. Not officially, but might as well be. For instance:

    The sameness is spreading – and it is achieving what may have been the intended effect, which isn’t “safety” or fuel efficiency but to make cars into appliances rather than things of passion – which is an effective way of stilling the passion to drive, to be on the open road, free, no particular place to go but enjoying the hell out of the ride.

    • Now, according to the excellent automotive columnist, Eric Peters, nobody wants e-cars because they cost too much, don’t go far enough before the battery dies, and take to long to refill. This all seems to be true. Now, anyway. (He also says cars will be boring when they all have the same quiet, tedious electric motors. He may have something. Would you buy a Harley if it just made a gentle soughing sound?)

      Nuclear-Powered Cars, Tesla, Al Gore, Solar Power, Elon Musk, and More

      How well all of this will work, or parts of it, I don’t know. Maybe car batteries have peaked out and won’t get better, and electric cars will just be look-at-me toys for the over-moneyed. Maybe Elon Tiles won’t work for some reason I can’t think of. But if I were a gasoline company, or electric utility especially, I BELIEVE I would look for an anxiety-management clinic.

      et tu Fredus?

        • I don’t ever go here, but I think I know how it works.

          Guys that are fed up with the PC stance of forums have only this one last refuge on the net to talk frankly about obese people without fear of consequences.

          Their only 2 rules are. Don’t be fat. Don’t show fat sympathy or post and comment in ways contrary to the spirit of the FPH forum.

          Not sure how much you’d like to say about fat people, but you do have your own blog and you would be a bit of a novelty there. Or just do as I do, and don’t share any details about yourself whatsoever.

          Important thing is there’s verified ladies who have sent in a picture with their username and a timestamp, so there’s a good chance you have some true pictures of a population of non fat chicks to talk to.

          Woman who’ve proven their fitness say Verified Shitlady. Men who’ve proven their fitness say Verified Shitlord.

          It’s the polar opposite of a Tinder but if its like the rest of the site, you can make some real friends and have a good time shit talking and ranting and stuff just like you do here.

          Another angle would be to start articles about dealings with fat fraus and waddling clovers you’ve had to endure in real life. Either here or there might be of interest besides so many rants about heroes.

          Just an idea if you ever have a free minute in your hectic one man band non stop touring schedule of a life you lead.

        • Mine too, Eric. I do not always agree with him but I respect his opinions. He is an intelligent observer and a hell of a writer. Ditto this sentiment to you as well Eric.

        • I met him a few times when I was down in Mexico for the winter. He doesn’t say much but what he does say is damn interesting. He is quite an aficionado of dive bars and so am I (Mexico has no shortage of them). It doesn’t hurt that he is quite welcoming to beer and shots of tequila.

          He is open to meeting fans so if your down his way let him know.

        • I met Fred a few times when I was spending the winter in Mexico. He doesn’t say much but what he says is damn interesting. He is quite an aficionado of dive bars of which Mexico has no shortage. Heck, I appreciate them too for that matter. He is also very welcoming to beer and shots of tequila.

          He is open to meeting fans so if you’re down there let him know or ask around town and you’ll find him.

  4. My father and I started to see this trend in the 1980’s. I am not surprised at all with today’s offerings, nor am I the least bit impressed by anything other than the whopping outrageous price tags! It’s about as appealing as spending $50.00 to eat at a cafeteria, bleah!

  5. I’ve noticed the “sameness” in other ways that are not necessarily government-mandated. There’s an incredible similarity in design and appearance within market segments. Has anyone else noticed how Chevy redesigned the Cruze and made it nearly identical to a Ford Focus? All the cars in that segment — the VW, the Kia, the Ford, the Chevy — have flat-sided wheel arches, similar bubble headlights and taillights, nearly identical rear bumpers and rear license plate surrounds, etc. They all have 2.0 gas DFI engines. Some paint colors, notably the dark grey, look nearly interchangeable from one brand to the next.

    Part of it may be that they’re buying subassemblies from the same suppliers, but it’s almost as if all these cars across the brands were drawn up by the same design team. You really can’t tell them apart without looking at the badging.

  6. Glad to learn why cars have those thick butts on them these days. Here’s another puzzler: why do modern pickups have such huge, thick front ends? Are they an aerodynamic cheater or just a fashion?
    My ’89 Dodge pickup, like all the pickups of its era, is probably little more then two feet from bumper bottom to top of the hood.

    • I agree Ross. My father’s 1992 Silverado RWD was arguably the lowest profile, and most aerodynamic of the pickup truck designs. Conversely, our 1974 K-10 is no more than a giant brick on 4 wheels, much as today’s body style. When you consider the price has quadrupled since 1992, new truck purchases all seem to be a dick-measuring contest. That 1992 1500 had a TBI 350 with a 5-Speed manual, and could haul anything just as easily as today’s trucks, got 22 mpg on the highway, and rode as comfortably as any Sedan-De-Ville or Continental. We paid 14K cash for it Band-New.

      • Interesting. And you’re sure right about pickup prices! Some YouTube comparo among full-size pickups included a Ford half-ton–mind you, a half-ton–that cost over $50,000. That was a couple of years ago.

        • Hi Ross,

          All the current 1500 trucks can easily cost $50k when optioned out. That’s not the bad part, though. If someone wants a leather-covered King Ranch or High Country, fine. My beef is with the fact that no one sells an affordable work truck anymore. Check out the base prices of the current 1500s. With small V6s and 2WD they are in the mid-high $20k range. Oh, they come with AC and power windows and useless gadgets such as LCD touchscreens and multiple air bags… but if you want 4WD and a V8, you are looking at mid-$30k and up.

          Now factor in the cost to insure that truck – and maintain it, since you can’t yourself anymore. And the cost of the gnomesayin’ 18 inch tires they generally put on those “rims” . . .

          It’s obnoxious and it’s economically insane.

          There is no legitimate reason for not offering a $22-$25k work truck with a V8 and 4WD and manual AC. But the object of the exercise is to debt-slave everyone, so that’s why such is not offered.

          • The work fleet is all F-150s. Last year the new V6 short bed baby pickups have been added. Techs hate ’em because they can’t get to the front of the bed because you need a stepladder to get into the thing. Add a topper and forget about seeing anything up by the cab until spring cleaning.

            I blame Ford. They seem to love to tout their ground clearance and carrying capacity cubic footage. If you can’t go wide, go high I guess.

    • Ross, my guess is that pickup trucks look the way they do is for the looks of the entire truck. El-Caminos have cat-like front ends with a bed height no taller than the hood. That style works for some people, but others need a deeper bed. Imagine how dorky a full sized pickup would look like with a car front end, and image trying to back it up looking at your rear view mirror over that tall bed and tailgate. My. 7.3 liter diesel engine will not fit under a standard truck hood, much less into a car front end. That is why the super duty Ford trucks have a higher hood center than standard F series trucks. Also, a larger front end would reduce undercarriage drag. Just look how close to the ground most OTR semi-trucks are nowadays.

  7. One resistance to driving tedium is the 2018 Toyota Camry. It retains a V6 engine and increases the power to 301 Hp. One possible negative is the use of direct injection. If the Camry V6 drivetrain was available in the RAV4 – as it once was – I’d buy it.

    My 2012 RAV4 V6, 4WD, specs: Hp – 269 @ 6200; Torque: 246 @ 4700; 5-speed automatic, regular fuel, 3500lbs towing, 0-60 MPH 6.4 sec. No: auto stop start, turbos, active fuel management, or direct injection.

  8. What you’ve got is an inexorable progression of government mandates covering all aspects of the car that have accumulated over the past 40 years or so. A combination of fuel efficiency requirements, safety requirements, emissions mandates, etc. all combining to homogenize the automotive industry. Add to this the patchwork of different regulations from California to EU to US federal and you’ve narrowed down the variability even further. Pretty soon we will have NASCAR-like rules restricting outside shape and size, engine design, etc. and the biggest difference between brands will literally be the shape of the emblem on the grill.

    You’ve done an excellent job in the past, EP, of pointing out such trends, and this article continues in that vein. You’ve consistently mentioned how monstrous the A-pillars of cars and trucks today have become due to rollover safety standards. You’ve mentioned the drift towards turbo-4s and -3s and away from NA engines with simple mechanics and large displacements.

    In many ways you’re the anti-Consumer Reports who constantly insist that inane “safety” equipment be mandated by the government and be installed in all models and all trim levels, like backup cameras in the past and now lane departure warning systems and front collision warning systems today. I don’t know if I can give you higher praise than calling you the anti-Consumer Reports, since they portray themselves as pro-consumer and they are anything but.

    It might be interesting to put together an article listing and estimating the various costs of manufacturing a car that complies with all the various federal and California regulations alone. Some may counter, rightfully, that you get a hell of a lot more car today, in terms of performance, safety, reliability, and fuel efficiency, than you did in the 1970s per inflation-adjusted dollar. Yet I would counter that what is unseen is how much better and cheaper still cars would be without such regulations and with more consumer preference-driven options and choices. We’d still have very safe options. Safety sells, and Volvo, among others, has made a living out of that mantra. But we’d have inexpensive basic transportation options as well (look at the $5k basic transports available in India and China for example). We’d have options that get incredible fuel economy (imagine a 50+mpg diesel car like they sell routinely in Europe). We’d have ultra high performance models for cheap (imagine a Dodge Demon or Corvette Z06 with a catalytic converter delete option just for starters). Things would be better, and far more interesting, and likely no less safe since, strangely, people generally don’t have a death wish. Yes there may be some stupid people out there who do drive as such, but I’d rather have one or two of them on the road than all of them running regulatory agencies like the DOT and EPA as we currently have. They can do far less damage that way.

  9. There’s also a lot of bad stylists without any original thoughts or good tastes. The extremely talented and very un-PC Bill Mitchell would be very unwelcome in today’s industry. Most OEMs prefer the easily controllable types (regardless of talent) that fit their PC corporate culture.

  10. I think a lot of the blame also has to go to the mainstream automotive press too. Every review I read of the Jeep Cherokee had a left-handed compliment about the “unique looks” of the front grill. Same with the old body Honda Ridgeline. Now that Honda “restyled” the Ridgeline to look like every other sport pickup it gets complements about the look, or some line like “should appeal to buyers.” Duh! People bought Ridgelines because they were odd and quirky and not at all like the typical truck. When I test drove one I was more than a little disappointed with the look.

    Still, could be worse. Who remembers the big ugly rubber pads on bumpers when Uncle decreed that bumpers had to withstand a 5 MPH impact? Ruined many cars including Porches and other exotics.

    • The 5mph deal was the beginning of the end. I wonder if, upon further investigation, it was lobbied for by American car companies fearing the European and Japanese cars appeal.

  11. You mentioned “rescinding fatwas”. I wonder why it is that laws are never rescinded when proven harmful. Politicians have some kind of professional respect for each other, and never unwind the previous mess, only build on top of it to make things worse.

    You’re absolutely right about cars all looking the same. I like big sedans and was in the market for a new car recently and couldn’t find one that I liked, so I bought a Ford Focus RS, which is still a somewhat unique car. It has V6 power and V8 gas mileage. My 14 year old 300HP car got 30 mpg on the highway, this one gets 24 and has 350HP. A step backwards… Anyhow, it’s sad to be a grey-hair and remember the huge diversity in cars and realize that’s now just a memory.

    • Speaking of “rescinding fatwas”. I don’t believe there is any reason to seek undoing government edicts (begging politicians for freedom). If all of the car manufacturers would band together and IGNORE the edicts, what would happen? Would government kill off all vehicle manufacturing? The problem is, people have forgotten who is in charge here.

      • Car companies run thin margins, they could all be put out of business during the government hissy fit since they still have to pay their people and suppliers.

        What would happen is public outrage over the greedy car companies and some opportunist like Elon Musk would come in and be appointed car manufacturing czar or something like that. I suspect the auto industry would get nationalized.

    • Not long after we bought a silver Japanese SUV I parked it in an airport lot. Upon return I walked up to it working the remote lock system to open it, to no avail. I tried the door handle. Then it became clear it wasn’t our SUV but looked so much like all the other silver SUVs in the lot a recent buyer like me had to concentrate to tell the difference. Lucky that the other car’s alarm didn’t go off.

      Yeah, I miss the differences in cars. It seems like memories these days only bring regret and a sense of loss.

  12. I own a 2014 Hyundai Sante Fe Sport with the 2.0 turbo. I’m 65 and drive like it too. I get pretty good mileage but I do like the power when I need it, like interstate ramps. No complaints there.

    I plan on trading it in for another when the warranty runs out. I just don’t want to deal with repairing a turbo: $$$.

    Funny you should mention them as appliances. I was just thinking the exact same thing as I was driving the other day. I don’t hate my car nor do I love it. I just use it to move my butt around, like I use my toaster to toast bread or my microwave to heat food or to my refrigerator to keep stuff cold. I used to love some of my cars but nothing out there really excites me anymore. Everything looks and drives the same. I love my car like I love my microwave.

    • Hi Mugwump,

      Yup! Every time I drive an older car – one without a computer, with a brand-specific engine – I am reminded of what we’ve lost.

  13. Dont know what your take on this is, but the interesting thing I’ve noticed with the turbo’ed up small high compression engines is that in the real real world, there is hardly any increase in fuel economy (over the original bigger engines)! What I suspect is that when the (here) EU bureaucrat comes down to test the car with his clip board and lab coat he probably drives it in a certain way, as you would say, like an appliance (as deep down inside he probably hates cars after years of mental grooming).

    Then that car is sold to a normal person like you or me – who gets in, pushes the pedal a respectable distance and the engine shoots into the turbo zone where fuel consumption goes up exponentially. People then do this a bit at every corner, signal, junction and other opportunity….. this adds up and over the weeks and months, we realise that we are not getting anywhere close to the stated fuel economy….. On top of that – if you intend to keep the car a while, you risk very expensive service bills if say your turbo goes…… If say these rules actually achieved anything, it may make sense – in the real world unfortunately its just another way to fleece the driver……

    • Hi Nasir,


      I can vouch for this, directly – from personal experience test driving new cars equipped with small turbo engines.

      They are capable of mileage gains (not spectacular; generally, in the range of 3-5 MPG better than a V6 of comparable power) IF you keep your foot out of it.

      The problem, of course, is that to get the power needed to get the damned car to move, you don’t keep your foot out of it. And then gas mileage takes the predictable dump.

      This business is particularly noticeable in large vehicles – like the ’18 Tiggy I just reviewed – which are on boost almost all the time because how else is a four cylinder engine going to move a 4,000 lb. vehicle?

      • If I recall the government fuel economy cycle correctly it has some glacial pace of acceleration. Hence it would force the design of cars that sacrificed fuel economy when pushed harder while gaining it while driven in slothtastic manner. In other words we are likely looking at designs that are driven by the test not the customer.

        • That is unequivocally correct and falls in line with the better performing car being driven like a little old lady is behind the wheel.

          I don’t know what sort of mileage a new performance ‘Stang or Camaro COULD get but once behind the wheel and you hear that exhaust note and when you hit the throttle a bit and it instantly gains 3000 rpm and instantly drops back to idle I’d double dog dare anyone with a decent heartbeat to even consider fuel mileage. That person will never try to find out.

          When I was a kid with a really hot car that let you know when started idle wasn’t it’s forte.

          My mother on one of her shitties, something having to do with me and in retaliation, my dad too, I come in from work in the pickup and starting at my parents house are two black marks for 2 blocks.

          That car was the victim of a lot aggression.

      • I understand this to be the case with turbo’ed pickups. Good fuel mileage until you actually use them as trucks, then the mileage takes a dump. Big deal.


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